Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft gets underway next Thursday with the Houston Astros holding the top overall pick for the second straight year and fourth time in team history.
It's only the second time that a team has held the top pick in back-to-back years, joining the Washington Nationals, who held the first selection in 2009 and 2010.
A third straight No. 1 pick could be in the offering as well, as Houston is near the bottom of the standings once again.
With the top overall pick last year the Astros chose Puerto Rico Baseball Academy shortstop Carlos Correia. They also selected third baseman Phil Nevin first back in 1992 and made left-hander Floyd Bannister the No. 1 pick in 1976.
Houston really hasn't given any indication which way it may be leaning this year, but its pick figures to center around a pair of collegiate right- handers; Oklahoma standout Johnathan Gray and Stanford's Mark Appel, who was high on the Astros' draft board last year, but slipped due to signabilitly issues.
The concerns for Appel proved to be valid, as he chose to go back to college after failing to come to terms with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who selected him at No. 8.
Gray has been drafted twice before, but really came into his own this season, as he led the Big 12 with 115 strikeouts and compiled an 8-2 overall record with a 1.69 earned run average. He's touched 100 mph with his fastball, but works regularly between 94-97. He's also been compared to former first overall pick Gerrit Cole.
Appel, meanwhile, did nothing to hurt his stock this year with the Cardinal, as he was 10-4 during his senior campaign with a 2.12 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 106 1/3 frames. Through 14 appearances, the Friday night starter held opponents to a career-low .203 clip.
One of the most decorated players at the collegiate level, Appel finished his Stanford career with a school-record 372 strikeouts, which are second most among active NCAA hurlers.
The Chicago Cubs will have the second pick, followed by the Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians. The Miami Marlins will select sixth, with the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays completing the Top 10.
Pittsburgh's pick is compensation for failing to sign Appel.
The New York Yankees have a league high three first-round picks (26th, 32nd and 33rd overall). Four clubs have two first-round picks: the Pirates (9th and 14th), St. Louis Cardinals (19th and 28th), Tampa Bay Rays (21st and 29th) and Texas Rangers (23rd and 30th).
The Yankees and the Marlins each have four of the first 73 selections.
While the top two picks are expected to be pitchers, the first bat off the board could be San Diego outfielder Kris Bryant. The right-handed power hitter, who was the West Coast Conference Co-Player of the Year, led the nation in home runs (31), slugging percentage (.860) and runs scored (78).
Other players who figure to hear their name called early next Thursday are Georgia prep outfielder Austin Meadows, North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek, as well as high school catcher Reese McGuire and prep right-hander Kohl Stewart.
For the first time, the Draft will feature Competitive Balance rounds, which were agreed upon as a part of the 2012-2016 Basic Agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
The Competitive Balance rounds give clubs with the lowest revenues and in the smallest markets the opportunity to obtain additional draft picks through a lottery, which was held last July.
The ten clubs with the lowest revenues and the ten clubs in the smallest markets were entered into a lottery for the six selections immediately following the first round of the First-Year Player Draft (picks 34-39).
The eligible clubs that did not receive one of the six selections after the first round, and all other payee clubs under the Revenue Sharing Plan, were entered into a second lottery for the six picks immediately following the second round of the draft (picks 69-73; only five picks will be made in this round for 2013 after the Cleveland Indians forfeited their pick for the signing of free agent Michael Bourn).
Once again the draft will take place over three days, The first day will consist of the first 73 picks, including Round 1 and Competitive Balance Round A, the second round and Competitive Balance Round B. There will be four and a half minutes between first-round picks, two minutes during Competitive Balance Round A, and one minute during the second round and Competitive Balance Round B.
On Friday, the draft will resume in the second round at 1 p.m. EDT and will be tentatively scheduled to go through the 10th round. The festivities will then conclude on Saturday, which will again begin at 1 p.m. EDT and is set to cover rounds 11-40.
The inaugural Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was held in New York in 1965. The selection rotation is determined by the clubs' reverse order of their won-lost records at the close of the previous regular season, regardless of league.
There will be 40 rounds in the draft and it will finish after all 30 teams have passed on a selection or after the final selection in the 40th round, whichever comes first.
Former No. 1 overall selections include current major league stars Alex Rodriguez (1993), Josh Hamilton (1999), Adrian Gonzalez (2000), Joe Mauer (2001), David Price (2007), Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2010).